- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2023

Former President Donald Trump opened the door to new abortion restrictions by appointing three conservative Supreme Court justices. However, he is avoiding saying what kind of limits he would support.

His vagueness runs contrary to the advice from the Republican Party chief who urges candidates to tackle the abortion issue head-on.

Mr. Trump, in an interview published Monday, refused to say whether he would sign the type of six-week ban on abortion that his chief GOP rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis, signed in Florida.

“I’m looking at all alternatives. I’m looking at many alternatives. But I was able to get us to the table by terminating Roe v. Wade. That’s the most important thing that’s ever happened for the pro-life movement,” Mr. Trump told The Messenger, an online news outlet that launched Monday.

Abortion is poised to be a major issue in the 2024 campaign. Liberals were furious over a Supreme Court decision last year that overturned the nationwide right to abortion. Democrats used the development as an effective weapon against GOP candidates in the midterm elections.

Three conservative justices appointed by Mr. Trump and confirmed by Republican senators played a decisive role in the 2022 ruling.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel recently told GOP candidates to “articulate where you stand” on abortion and to pressure Democrats to say whether they are comfortable with abortion at any point in a pregnancy.

She said midterm candidates stumbled by ignoring the issue or failing to outline a proper course of action following the Supreme Court ruling.

Mr. DeSantis set down an aggressive marker with his six-week state ban. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is pushing for a 15-week ban at the national level. Yet Mr. Trump, the clear front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, refuses to outline a firm position.

At least one candidate has questioned the necessity of weighing in on the debate.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a declared GOP presidential candidate, says there is no point in GOP presidential candidates pledging a federal ban on abortion until there are sufficient votes in Congress and a “national consensus” to ban late-term abortions.

“In order to do a national standard, you’d have to have a majority of the House, 60 Senate votes and a president. We haven’t had 60 pro-life senators in 100 years,” Mrs. Haley told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “The idea that a Republican president could ban all abortions is not being honest with the American people, any more than a Democrat president could ban these pro-life laws in the states.”

“Let’s be honest with the American people and say: ‘Let’s find national consensus. Let’s agree on getting rid of late-term abortions,’” she said.

GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, a multimillionaire entrepreneur, also said he doesn’t think a federal abortion ban “makes any sense.”

“I say that as somebody who’s pro-life,” he told CNN this month. “If murder laws are handled at the state level and abortion is a form of murder — the pro-life view — then it makes no sense for that to be the one federal law. It seems like many of the Republicans are dancing around that issue and afraid to say it out loud. I will.”

Political analysts said the abortion topic is a dicey one for the candidates because there is a range of stances they could take, so any firm position might alienate a bloc of voters.

“The post-Roe world means more options are on the table but some of them are politically risky for Republicans,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Suburban women are one of the crucial swing votes in the upcoming election and Republicans need abortion positions that will appeal to those voters. They tend not to be as conservative on abortion as the party rank and file so that creates political cross-currents for the GOP.”

The abortion issue poses perils for both parties.

A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found 61% of Americans generally support abortion rights while 37% are opposed. About 6 in 10 opposed the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe.

Despite that general support for abortion access, two-thirds said abortion should be available, at most, in the first three months of pregnancy.

When pressed on abortion limits, President Biden has said he would like to write into law the protections that Roe v. Wade provided before last year’s decision to overturn the 1973 case.

“Let’s protect a woman’s right to choose and codify Roe v. Wade,” Mr. Biden told a Democratic National Committee reception on April 28.

Mrs. McDaniel wants GOP candidates to go on offense by getting Democrats to say whether they want any limits at all on abortion.

“What abortion is a bad idea to Democrats? Ninth month, eighth month, seventh month? They can’t even articulate an abortion that’s a bad idea,” Mrs. McDaniel recently said on Fox News. “Put them on the defensive and articulate where you stand and that’s going to be that critical message that we have to get out before these — before 2024.”

Mr. Trump appeared to hammer on that theme in a recent meeting with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser. She rebuked Mr. Trump last month after he said abortion access should be left up to the states, though the pair smoothed things over.

She hailed a “terrific” May 8 meeting with the former president and Mr. Graham in which Mr. Trump affirmed his opposition to “the extreme Democratic position of abortion on demand, up until the moment of birth, paid for by taxpayers.”

“President Trump knows the vast majority of Americans oppose brutal late-term abortions when the child can feel pain and suck their thumbs,” Ms. Dannenfelser said. “President Trump reiterated that any federal legislation protecting these children would need to include the exceptions for life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest. Protecting unborn children capable of feeling pain would align America with the civilized world and with 47 out of 50 European nations.”

SBA Pro-Life America has proposed that all candidates oppose abortions after 15 weeks, saying unborn children must be protected from pain, and pointing to a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll last year that suggested its position is popular.

Mr. Trump’s been coy about what those federal restrictions would look like, which may be good politics given his front-runner status.

“The [potential] candidate with the most clear cut opposition to abortion, Mike Pence, isn’t doing very well, and the candidate with the most ambiguous or undefined stand, former President Trump, is leading the field,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “I think that if a Republican hopeful checks any anti-abortion box, it will probably pass the test with primary voters.”

The DNC, meanwhile, is interpreting any sign of anti-abortion rhetoric as a boon for their prospects in the general election.

Donald Trump just can’t help himself,” the DNC said in an email blast Monday. “He continues to double down on his extreme anti-choice record and brag about his role in appointing anti-choice justices to the Supreme Court who overturned Roe v. Wade, paving the way for a nationwide abortion ban.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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